Pipeline spills and leaks worry Manitoba farmer

The rate of pipeline safety incidents across Canada has doubled, according to a CBC News investigation which has also found the numbers in Manitoba are going up.

Rate of pipeline safety incidents across Canada has doubled, CBC investigation finds

Pipeline spills and leaks worry Manitoba farmer

8 years ago
Dan Hacault, a canola farmer near Swan Lake, Man., has eight different pipelines running under his property. He talks about his concerns regarding pipeline safety as a CBC News investigation reveals the rate of incidents across Canada has doubled. 2:42

The rate of pipeline safety incidents across Canada has doubled, according to a CBC News investigation which has also found the numbers in Manitoba are going up.

In Manitoba, the average number of incidents between 2000 and 2005 was four, but from 2006 to 2011 that average figure jumped to 8.2, although the number dropped to six in 2011.

These figures come from National Energy Board data obtained under access-to-information legislation.

Among those with concerns about pipelines running through the province is Dan Hacault, a canola farmer near Swan Lake, Man., and a director with the Manitoba Pipeline Landowner Association.

There are eight different pipelines running under Hacault's 1,700-hectare property, which he and his family have farmed on for 35 years.

"The pipelines carry, as far as we know, liquid petroleum products and there is one pipeline that carries dilutant from refineries in the U.S. back to Edmonton," he said.

Hacault said while he has never had a leak on his farm, he has seen problems on nearby properties.

This pipeline blast near Brookdale, Man., in April 2002 released more than 6.8 billion litres of natural gas and sent a massive fireball into the air. (CBC)

"I can just about see the property from where we're standing … there's a very serious contamination problem there," he said.

"There's other leaks that are farther east and west of me."

Some of the pipeline-related incidents in Manitoba include a leak in November 2006 of 80,000 litres of sweet crude oil from an Enbridge line near Cromer, which is located near Virden.

In another case, TransCanada natural gas pipeline ruptured near Brookdale, Man., in April 2002, releasing more than 6.8 billion litres of natural gas and sending a massive fireball into the air.

No one was hurt in the explosion, but 100 people in the area were forced from their homes. As well, the blast left a large crater in the ground.

TransCanada and the Transportation Safety Board both blamed corrosion cracking for the blast.

NEB documents express concerns

The National Energy Board (NEB) data show the rate of overall pipeline incidents has doubled in Canada since 2000.

The numbers also show a three-fold increase in the nationwide rate of spills and leaks — ranging from small amounts to large — in the past decade.

The NEB, a federal regulator, oversees any pipeline that crosses provincial or international borders, which includes nearly 90 companies that own about 71,000 kilometres of pipelines.

Signs like this one appear on Hacault's property, which has eight different pipelines running under it. (CBC)
Each company overseen by the NEB must report safety issues including the death or serious injury of a worker, fires, explosions, liquid product spills over 1,500 litres and every gas leak.

The agency data obtained by CBC News does not include smaller pipelines monitored by provinces.

Documents recently published by the NEB show officials have expressed some concern over the rising numbers.

"Notwithstanding the safety record of NEB-regulated pipelines, the board has noticed an increased trend in the number and severity of incidents being reported by NEB-regulated companies in recent years," one 2012 report states.

However, an official chalks up the apparent increase to more reporting.

"I don't think that when you look at the numbers in aggregate that we've seen an alarming increase in significant, serious or major incidents over the last little while," said Patrick Smythe, the NEB's business leader for operations.

Industry committed to 'zero incidents'

The association that represents major pipeline companies also attributes the rise in the number of incidents to increased reporting, and says 99.9 per cent of liquid products are transported by pipelines safely.

Brenda Kenny, president of the Canadian Energy Pipelines Association, says there is an industry-wide commitment to “get to zero incidents.”

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“We're driving that out very hard through our risk-based management approach at the industry level that involves a lot of best practices, integrity, management, technology and these indicators,” said Kenny.

“The Canadian pipeline industry is one of the very safest in the world, second to none in terms of actual results."

But Nathan Lemphers, an associate with the Pembina Institute, suggests the increase in incidents may be a sign of aging infrastructure.

"The pipelines that are in the ground are getting older, and in some cases there's more products flowing through them, so you're going to see increasing incidents and increasing defects in those pipelines unless they're properly maintained," he said.

Back in the Swan Lake area, Hacault said even just one incident matters to him.

With files from the CBC's Amber Hildebrandt


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